March 2012


Rrrrrrrinnng! It’s your phone. You don’t recognize the number of who’s calling.

“Hello?”

“Hi! My name is Jo. Is this [insert your name here]?”

“Yes….”

“You work at [insert the name of your employer] as a [insert your job description], correct?

“Yes, um….”

“I have no idea how to do your job, but I’ve always been interested in taking that on myself. Could you please tell me exactly what you do, in every detail, and give me all your time-saving tips?”

Wouldn’t that be the weirdest conversation? In essence, it’s the call I received from a “good old boy from San Antonio” as he described himself. After the good old boy confirmed he was indeed speaking with someone from Angel Valley Farm, he continued to explain how he knew absolutely nothing about farming so he was calling to find out how we do things — what kind of fertilizer to use, how to prepare rows for planting, which varieties to grow that are proven best for disease and insect resistance.

Initially I was struck dumb, until I realized he was wanting me to spoon-feed him all this information right then and there, on the phone that very minute. Instead, my mind racing, I suggested a couple gardening books. He told me he already had a Rodale book on farming. I confirmed that was a darned fine place to start and cut the call short.

Now, I’m fully aware farming isn’t rocket science. It’s not brain surgery. Farmers don’t need to have a degree, nor must they pass a centralized test to obtain a license. Yet there’s a whole lot more to farming than can be explained over the telephone.

Besides, it’s a matter of experience. Of each individual’s trial and error. Every farm has it’s own personality traits — its soil structure, water quality and microclimate. No farmer works his or her land exactly like the farm across town.

Only a day or two after the call from San Antonio, I received an email from woman asking basically the same thing. She’d been searching out websites of organic farms, it seems, and found ours. Like the good old boy, she admitted to knowing very little about what we do, and went on to say that she’d like to “sit down with you and get your advice on the best growing techniques, and have you answer some specific questions I have.” No mention was made of compensating us for our time, of course. No offer even of home-baked cookies, say, or a nice six-pack of beer.

It was easy to get out of this one. I just told her that at this time of year, we don’t have much opportunity to “sit down” at all.

Who says we want to give away all our secrets anyway? It’s like when you ask to copy the recipe for which a cook is most renowned. Chances are, the cook might accidentally leave out the one crucial ingredient that makes the dish uniquely their own.

These are Farmer John’s ingredients.

Every time he prepares a bed for planting, he (or someone else here at the farm) sprinkles a combination of these ingredients along the row.

One pass with the spader, and the amendments are incorporated into the soil.

Drip tape is laid,

and planting can begin.

Confused by the photos? I’ll bet. These were mostly taken at different times, in different rows. Nevertheless, the concept is the same.

And in case you’re wondering, I’m not giving out the exact fertilizer recipe.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re happy to answer general gardening questions at the farm stands and such. Anyone who’s been the recipient of a gardening inquiry to Farmer John — or simply an innocent bystander of the exchange — has seen firsthand how freely he shares his knowledge. John loves to talk farming, a testament to his passion for it.

In fact, at dinner Saturday night John admitted to me that he’d been kind of a “chatterbox” at the stand that day. “How unusual!” I replied, grinning.

Too bad for the good old boy that he called here on a Tuesday morning and got me. If he’d waited until Saturday evening, maybe John would have picked up instead. Had that happened, they might still be on the phone right now.

* * *

Goodies abound for the farm stand this week! Here’s what we’ll have with us this Wednesday:

More bunches of sweet carrots; pink and purple radishes; green onions; green garlic; young leeks; bunches of chard; bunches of purple beets and golden beets; heads of Summer Crisp lettuce; Romaine; Red Butterhead lettuce; bunches of purple kohlrabi; lettuce mix; Euro salad mix; spinach; and escarole. (We’re in a battle to the death with aphids as they try to ruin our Dinosaur kale. Should we win, we’ll have some of that too…)

Thanks!
Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light; and
Wednesdays 10:00-2:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)

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When a customer rushed over to the pile of carrots on our market tables and announced, “I needed to see for myself if these carrots are as beautiful as they look on your website, or whether the picture had been photoshopped!” I had to laugh. Not because her comment was preposterous in any way — I’m sure plenty of photoshopping goes on in the Wide World of Websites. The thing is, I have no earthly idea how to do it. As I told her, it’s nearly a miracle that I can get a photo onto the site at all. Forget about prettying it up.

Updating a website is new to me in every way, actually. Ten years ago, long-time customer and website designer extraordinaire Karen put together a site for the farm, and her kind tech-minded husband Mason hosted it for us. My only job was to send Karen photos, recipes and text updates whenever the mood hit and she would do the rest. Heck, Karen even set up the mechanizations enabling my blog posts to automatically go out as emails to the people who subscribed.

I didn’t have a clue how any of these things happened. Ignorance is bliss, right? And whoa, was I ever ignorant. It was only after Karen was set to take on a full-time job and could no longer manage the website that I fully realized just how euphoric life had been.

When Karen told me the program she used for building the existing website was almost too difficult even for her skills, there was no question I had to start a new one from scratch rather than try to take over where she’d left off. Friend Kent suggested I use the services of one of the online web-hosting sites and after searching around and reading reviews, I decided on a company called GreenGeeks.

I plopped down the dough (a la credit card) to contract with GreenGeeks and learned that one of the programs they work with called RV Site Builder includes various page templates to choose from, saving users from having to create each page themselves. GreenGreeks described RV Site Builder as “not sophisticated.”

Immediately, I thought: That’s the one for me!

My first amazing discovery on the road to site building was WYSIWYG, which is short for What You See is What You Get. Not only does the acronym lend itself to an adorable pronunciation in its own right — “whisseewig” — it’s way less intimidating than its counterpart, HTML. With WYSIWYG you simply type what you want to say. HTML, on the other hand, is full of codes and squiggles and dots and dashes. Granted, you can get a whole lot snazzier using HTML, but it’s a whole lot more frightening too. There’s not even a cute way to say it. Hitmil? I don’t think so.

Thanks to RV Site Builder, putting the website together wasn’t nearly as stressful as I’d anticipated. Whenever I ran into a problem, someone at GreenGeeks’ Level One Support staff was always quick to answer my email inquiries. I was impressed.

This is not a photo of one of those people. It’s Mary, harvesting cucumbers during a cold spell last fall. I include it because it’s one of the pictures I used in the new website, and I know that soon enough I’ll be able to replace it with a more current shot of Mary doing something else. This will be one of the advantages of managing the site myself — I won’t have to pester Karen with it anymore.

It took some time to make it to this point, however. As pleased as I was about getting the site built, it was much more difficult trying to figure out how to put it out there for others to see. Mason had suggested I practice with a trial website, something with a different name than angelvalleyfarms.com. He’s a smart fellow, Mason. The problem was that I was the recipient of his ideas.

(That’s Dana and John, who share a page on the new website with Mary. They had nothing to do with all this, but it just seemed like time for another photo.)

We’ve never been very happy about using angelvalleyfarms as our domain name — we only have one farm, after all, making “farms” look a little silly to us — yet at the time we felt we had no choice. The name angelvalleyfarm was already taken when Karen started our first website those years ago. We considered angelvalleyorganicfarm, but thought it was too long. For the new site, however, we decided to throw caution to the wind and use it anyway.

I’ll spare you the details of switching back and forth between domain names with GreenGeeks. It was too much even for the Level One Support staff. At one point during my descent into madness (as I like to remember the process), my email inquiries were referred to Level Two.

This is how I imagined Level Two.

Suddenly, I was the guy in the movie “Brazil,” the one at the end of the runway whose mind was being erased by the man in the creepy baby mask. To make matters weirder still, each person I dealt with in Level Two Support had Russian spy names. Vlad was the first, then came Alexander and finally, Oleg.

Okay, so maybe Oleg isn’t Russian. It sounds more Scandinavian, really. Remember, though, by the time Oleg came along, I’d been metaphorically worked over by ol’ Baby Face and my brain was as mushy as the guy who was tortured in the show.

At least at the end of it all, we wound up with a new website. You can see it at either www.angelvalleyorganicfarm.com or www.angelvalleyfarms.com. (Mason made one domain name magically morph into the other, so both take you to the same place.) It’s a simple site, made up of only words and pictures. There are no moving parts, no slide shows, no background music. I’d love to brag that its simplicity is by choice, but honestly, it’s as fancy as my technical abilities allow.

What you see is what you get. If I were ever to try to do more with the site, I’d have to email Level Two again. And man, I’m not going back there.

* * *

Sounds like we’ll have some rain to deal with during harvest time, so this list is going to be a little tentative! Here’s what we plan to bring to the farm stand this Wednesday, if time allows:

More of those wonderfully sweet carrots, both in bunches and in bulk; Brussels sprouts (not as many — we’re starting to run out, boohoo); green onions; green garlic; young leeks; bunches of chard; Dinosaur kale; bunches of purple beets and golden beets; green Butterhead and red Butterhead lettuces; Red leaf lettuce; maybe a few Romaine; lettuces mix; the first of the spring spinach; and pink & purple radishes. (We’re giving the Euro mix a little break this week and we’re still waiting for the arugula — but those two things will be back soon!)

***A snafu I discovered after sending out last week’s missive was that with the new website name, suddenly the email address attached to the blog wasn’t working anymore. My apologies to those of you who tried to reply, only to get an “undeliverable” message! I think I have it fixed now. If it doesn’t work, though, please use our alternate email: angelvalleyfarm@gmail.com. We love hearing from you!

Thanks!
Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light; and
Wednesdays 10:00-2:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)

The latest person to collect Powerball’s multi-million dollar prize used the word “proud” when describing her feelings about her win. The story goes that she went to the store to buy some Rainbow Sherbet for a family member and bought one lottery ticket — the winning ticket — while she was there. Personally, I thought pride was an odd emotion, considering it was a simple craving for an icy dessert that ultimately led to her instant riches. Who am I to judge, though? Maybe she’s proud of being lucky.

I think of myself as one of the lucky ones too. I’ve long been married to a great guy, I live on a lovely little farm, and have many friends who are important to me. My luck, however, has been almost exclusively non-drawing related. I’m not the one who wins the door prize. Lottery proceeds continue to elude me.

That’s not to say I’ve never won anything at all. When I was maybe seven or eight years old, my mother came home one day with a big box of brand new Barbie clothes, each color-coordinated ensemble (including the tiny shoes!) still attached to its cardboard packaging. Where did she get this treasure trove of Barbiewear? She won it! Well, technically I won it, as she had used my name in the drawing for this spectacular wardrobe. She hadn’t told me about it beforehand because she didn’t want to risk disappointing me.

She was a really nice mom.

Alas, my luck for such things expired that day. It doesn’t work, apparently, if I’m aware of being in the competition. Every drawing I’ve entered since that surprise childhood win has been a bust. Which is why I wasn’t immediately interested in answering a recent online survey from one of the seed suppliers we use, despite the supplier’s enticement of a $50 gift certificate for some lucky survey filler-outer. Fully aware of my lack of this type of luck, I allowed the email to languish in my inbox for a good week or more before finally deciding to go for it.

Honestly, it was more out of curiously than any misguided hope that I’d wind up $50 richer. As I clicked through the survey’s questions, I learned the seed company was trying to assess what methods people use for growing crops through the winter.

One of the questions asked what advantage there might be to winter growing. There’s no doubt in my mind that my answer echoed every other: fewer insect problems. (Wonder if the absence of originality will further hurt my chances at that cool 50 bucks?) The answer is obvious for farmers in, say, Maine or Minnesota where insects actually die during the winter months — rather than just hibernate, like they do in our part of the world — but I was thinking about this winter in particular, and even this past fall.

Oddly, we had no aphids. It was almost eerie. Generally we battle these tiny suckers all year round to some degree, yet they’d seemed to have vanished from the face of the earth last September. We didn’t miss them. Especially on the Brussels sprouts, which are normally Party Central for every aphid in the tri-county area. It’s why we don’t put a whole lot of emphasis on growing Brussels plants for the sprouts themselves and consequently hold back on the number we put in the ground.

Compared to the amount of fall broccoli and cauliflower we grow, Brussels plants are kind of like the forgotten second cousins.

Yet this year, for some reason aphids remained AWOL long enough for the Brussels sprouts to flourish. While our farm stands were shut down, patrons of our two favorite restaurants, Wink and Texas French Bread, enjoyed a bounty of insect-free sprouts from our farm. Now that we’ve reopened our stands, we’ve been able to bring them directly to you.

Trouble is, the fall is finished and winter is almost a memory. Blowing in on the March winds, zillions of winged aphids have arrived and brought with them their newly-hatched minions.

The sprouts aren’t their only target. We’re suddenly finding aphids on the lettuces, the Asian greens, and more. We’ve started fighting them with our limited organic arsenal, but it’s difficult — impossible, really — to spray Brussels sprouts plants sufficiently to kill these awful little bugs.

The good news is that the number of plants turned to goo are thus far in the minority. We do still have a decent amount of happy, aphid-free sprouts.

How long the tiny insects will allow us this luxury, I can’t begin to guess. Our strategy is to keep harvesting as many as we can, while we can. It’s the only strategy available to us. After all, spring is pretty much here. The aphids are back.

Know what I’d like more than that $50 gift certificate? To be granted one wish. A fifty doesn’t buy much of a wish, though, so I realize it’ll have to fall somewhere between Powerball and owning the best-dressed Barbie in the neighborhood. I’m thinking the total extinction of aphids, at least here at the farm, would be a nice prize. Heck, I’d even chip in a few extra bucks if it would help.

* * *
A bigger selection coming to the farm stand every week now! Here’s what we’ll have this Wednesday:

Brussels sprouts; bunches of sweet carrots; green onions; green garlic; young leeks; bunches of chard; Dinosaur kale; bunches of purple beets and golden beets; lots of green and red Butterhead lettuces; Red leaf lettuce; a few Romaine; lettuces mix; Euro salad mix; some arugula; and anything else we find ready for harvest.

Thanks!
Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light; and
Wednesdays 10:00-2:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)

**We’re reopening the Jollyville Road farm stand this coming Wednesday, March 7th! Below is the first blog of the season, and a list of what we’ll be bringing to the stand. We hope to see you!**

Farmer John and I love the Westminster Dog Show. It’s a guilty pleasure, one that we’re fully aware isn’t very socially responsible. And actually, we’re big fans of mutts. Had we ever decided to adopt a puppy — kind of an absurd thought, since John and I have always been “cat people” — there’s no doubt in my mind we would have picked one up at the Animal Shelter rather than from a dog breeder. Not that we feel any disdain toward folks who prefer their pets purely bred. Certainly not. Case in point: Farmer John and I love the Westminster Dog Show.

(I realize I might get some grief from people who feel these show dogs aren’t loved or well cared-for. I’m hoping they’re wrong. As a basis for my belief, I’m relying on my favorite Christopher Guest movie, a parody of the Westminster Dog Show aptly entitled Best in Show. If you haven’t seen it, you should.)

Despite the fact ours would be a home for only mixed breeds, we derive great joy from watching the top tier of the various purebreds compete for best in their division, and ultimately Best in Show. It’s fun to get a behind-the-scenes peek as the groomers primp and preen these canines, to catch glimpses of the judges lifting tails for closer looks while the handlers gently clasp doggie treats between their own teeth before tossing the coveted morsels to their obedient Standard Poodles or Smooth Fox Terriers.

Yet there was a problem this year. Not because of the winner. Even though he wasn’t the pooch I was rooting for, Malachy the Pekingese was delightful…if there was indeed really a dog underneath all that shiny, perfectly coifed hair.

No, the problem was that the Westminster Dog Show was already taking place again. Had it really been a year since the Scottish Deerhound took home the 2011 Best of Show trophy? It felt like only yesterday. So much so, the idea of an entire year having passed since we’d last watched the award show threatened to ruin the entire experience for me.

The only way I was able to continue viewing was by making comments like, “This Westminster Dog Show is as glamorous as the one they broadcast two months ago!” Or “Isn’t it amazing that they can pull this extravaganza together every few weeks?”

John, being a really good sport, went right along with it. If there were a Mr. Congeniality ribbon awarded in this competition, he’d have won it paws down.

Dana understands my plight too. Not necessarily about the Westminster Dog Show (she doesn’t watch TV), but definitely about the lightning fast passage of time. With the farm stands reopening after our winter hiatus, time has been tapping us all on the shoulders; in Dana’s case, however, it was more like a slap in the face.

It didn’t matter that our February calendar was scribbled through and through with lists of what we’ve been planting for the spring.

Nor did it necessarily hit her after we filled not only one, but two 200-foot hoop houses with tomato and pepper starts.

Painstakingly planting thousands of onions didn’t startle her psyche, neither did the back-breaking chore of burying four 400-foot beds and three 200-foot beds with seed potatoes.

Nothing caused her brain to sproing toward spring until late last week. We’d spent almost all of Thursday planting salad mixes, arugula, peppers, beets and the last of the potatoes. With only 30 minutes remaining, John asked Dana and Zac to spray out enough 3-1/2” pots to fill 15 trays. Mary was going to need them to plant the first succession of summer squash the following day.

Zac knew what the pots were for, but Dana did not. As they were standing at the grate squirting pot after soil-encrusted pot, Zac asked Dana what her favorite variety of squash is. A simple question. Probably intended merely as a conversation starter.

“These are for squash?!!” Dana howled. “How can it already be time for SQUASH?!”

That was the clincher. The item to finally bring home the fact that yes, we’re headed full force into the spring and summer seasons. It was a brain-rattling revelation for her, just as this year’s Westminster Dog Show was for me.

It makes me wonder how Malachy is handling it.

Surely this wasn’t his first try at winning Best in Show. He knows what it is to wait one year between attempts. Which I suppose is actually seven dog years, right? Still, were I ever to meet Malachy and get a chance at a little one-on-one with him, I’d advise he relish every single second of his championship. The next Westminster Dog Show is right around the corner.

* * *
And here we go! Like every year (dog or human) our initial list of offerings is a little brief — but it’s all scrumptious, and the selection will increase as time rushes along. We’re so looking forward to seeing everybody at the farm stand again! For this Wednesday’s stand we’ll have:

Wonderfully sweet carrots; brussels sprouts; green onions; bunches of chard; Dinosaur kale; bunches of purple beets and golden beets; Asian greens; head lettuces (don’t know which varieties quite yet); lettuces mix; Euro salad mix; arugula; and whatever else we might find ready for harvest.

Thanks!
Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light; and
Wednesdays 10:00-2:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)